Dr. Ortiz, Inter-American Human Rights Court
I want to start this report by thanking you for your commitment and support to reproductive rights in Central America and Mexico. At Ipas CAM, we are grateful for you and know that we can count on you to advance our agenda in the region. This year has been extremely challenging but also exciting and your support through GlobalGiving has helped us to keep the hard work going even in these times of uncertainty. Below, you will find some updates from our work.
Mexican Supreme Court ruled in favor of decriminalizing abortion and more states passed legislation to make abortion legal and safe.
The recent months have been extremely intense on the sexual and reproductive rights agenda in Mexico. The Mexican Supreme Court ruled anti-constitutional the criminalization of women, medical staff, and anyone who supports women getting a voluntary abortion, opening the way for all Mexican states to follow the steps of Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Hidalgo. In the past six months the states of Veracruz, Baja California and Colima had decriminalize abortion and more than ten states Congress are analyzing bills on this issue.
On September 7, the Mexican Supreme Court unanimously ruled that it is unconstitutional to criminalize abortion. The Court declared the invalidity of Article 196 of the Penal Code of Coahuila, which established a prison sentence for a woman who voluntarily performs an abortion or anyone who helps her have an abortion. From now on, when deciding future cases, Mexican judges will have to consider as unconstitutional the penal norms of the states that criminalize abortion in an absolute manner.
During the same week, the Court invalidated an article of the Sinaloa State Constitution, which established the protection of the right to life from the moment of conception, declaring that the State Congress’s do not have the power to create legal personhood.
Finally, in the same month, the Court also declared invalid the conscientious objection article of the General Health Law and asked Congress to review it as it was a "blank check" for health care providers to deny abortion services. Congress must now review the article to limit conscientious objection and ensure that it is not a barrier to access to safe and legal abortion services.
The decisions of the Court sent a clear message to state legislators on the importance of decriminalizing abortion. On December 1st the congress of Colima approved reforms to the Penal Code of the State, which decriminalize voluntary abortion in the first twelve weeks of gestation and expand the circumstances under which abortion is legal with two exceptions, on top of the ones that already exist in the State:
- When the authority had previously denied the legal abortion service within the first twelve weeks of gestation.
- When during the provision of the service, the medical or nursing personnel had omitted to correctly and timely inform the pregnant woman of her right to terminate her pregnancy legally and safely within the first twelve weeks of gestation.
The reforms also reduce the penalties for pregnant women who consent to abortion after twelve weeks of gestation and increase the penalty for the crime of forced abortion.
In addition, amendments to the State Health Law were approved to include a chapter on the provision of pregnancy termination services, to consider sexual and reproductive health and family planning as a priority, and to ensure the provision of abortion services in the event of conscientious objection by medical personnel. Colima thus becomes the sixth state to recognize women's autonomy to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy in the first twelve weeks of gestation.
Inter-American Court rules in favor of Manuela a woman who was unfairly incarcerated under the El Salvador abortion law
The Inter-American Court has ruled in the case of Manuela and family members v. El Salvador for criminalizing women's access to emergency obstetric services and forcing health professionals to denounce women who seek care.
In the judgment, the Court recognizes that "...the ambiguity of medical professional secrecy [in Salvadoran law] ... implies that health personnel, to avoid being sanctioned, denounce women suspected of having committed the crime of abortion." At the same time, it recognizes that the confidentiality of medical records and the exceptionality of their disclosure are not sufficiently regulated in the country. It, therefore, recommends that the state adopt, within no more than two years from the notification of the judgment, clear regulations on the scope of medical professional secrecy, the protection of medical records and their exceptions to disclosure, following the standards developed in the decision, establishing that:
- Medical and health personnel do not have an obligation to denounce women who have received medical care for possible abortions.
- Health personnel must maintain professional secrecy in these cases in the face of questioning by the authorities.
- Failure to report by medical or health personnel should not result in administrative, criminal, or any other type of sanction.
On the other hand, the Court recognized that Manuela suffered an obstetric emergency caused by pre-eclampsia due to health conditions before pregnancy that the health system in El Salvador failed to detect in time.
As a result of the actions of medical personnel, authorities, and the state in general, the Court recognizes that Manuela's human rights were violated, especially her right to life, to health, to judicial protection and guarantees, and to be free from discrimination and gender-based violence, among others.
Ipas Central America and Mexico collaborated with petitioning organizations by participating as an expert witness during the trial. During the hearings, Guillermo Ortiz, Ipas Global Medical Advisor, stated that based on scientific evidence, Manuela suffered an obstetric emergency due to her deteriorated state of health and the lack of timely medical attention. He also recalled as standard practice the denunciation by health personnel of any woman who comes to seek obstetric care as a possible commission of a crime, under threat of severe sanctions if she does not do so.
We applaud the work of the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Feminist Collective for Local Development, which with the support of the Citizens' Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion in El Salvador, have achieved #JusticeForManuela and her family. This case will be paramount to the defense and promotion of reproductive rights in the region.